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Monday, 1 June 1987
Page: 3670

Mr REITH —My question is addressed to the Acting Prime Minister. Is it a fact that the National Media Liaison Service costs the Australian taxpayer more than $1.3m per annum? In view of reports that the head of the Service will be based at the Australian Labor Party's campaign headquarters during the election campaign, does the Acting Prime Minister deny that the Service will be used by the Government for party political purposes? Does the Acting Prime Minister agree that this is an abuse of the Service and in contradiction of the statements by the former Special Minister of State in 1983 that the Service would not work for Labor?

Mr JOHN BROWN —The National Media Liaison Service has the proper task of helping the Government to properly communicate its decisions and policies to the wider community. In fact, some people might say that it has a similar function to that of the Government Information Unit under the Fraser-Howard Government. That is a proposition that I would not accept.

The National Media Liaison Service is concerned with the proper communication of government decisions and policies. The community has the right to be properly informed about what the Government is doing with its tax moneys. By comparison, the Government Information Unit, under the previous Government, had an entirely different charter. Let me give the House one good example. In May 1982, the Victorian Liberal Government had just been defeated and there was very lively debate within the Liberal Party as to what contribution Malcolm Fraser had made to that disaster. The honourable member for Kooyong-even then a humble back bencher-held a Press conference in his Melbourne office. There was widespread media speculation as to what the honourable member saw in the defeat that had something to do with Malcolm Fraser's leadership in Canberra and the defects of it. Even then the word `challenge' was in the air. While all this was going on, Malcolm Fraser was--

Mr Spender —I take a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall that the question was directed to what this Government is doing with the National Media Liaison Service. In my submission, it is quite irrelevant for the Minister to depart into what the honourable member for Kooyong or anybody else may have been doing or saying some years ago.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Chair is listening carefully to the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism. The question was fairly wide.

Mr JOHN BROWN —While the honourable member for Kooyong was holding his Press conference, Malcolm Fraser was pacing the floor in his Melbourne office. Within minutes of the honourable member for Kooyong finishing his Press conference, Malcolm Fraser had a tape recording of all that had gone on supplied to him by a member of the Government Information Unit who was there to spy on the activities of a then back bencher, at taxpayers' expense.

Mr Spender —Madam Speaker, on a further point of order: This is nothing less than buffoonery. In my submission, it is not relevant and must be ruled out.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. The Chair is listening carefully to the Minister. He will complete his answer.

Mr JOHN BROWN —When the Government Information Unit vacated its office in Canberra in March 1983, it thought that it had destroyed the files. It had not done so. One survived, and it makes very interesting reading. One of these days I might even bring it into the House. I now show the House the official handbook of the Liberal Party. It lists the Government Information Unit as a source of background notes on current issues for candidates: `Parliamentary reports, Senate Records Office, the Government Information Unit; fact sheets and background notes on current issues for your candidate'.

Let us have no more hypocrisy about the National Media Liaison Service. The National Media Liaison Service has done its job very well. It has very properly served the people of Australia by disseminating, to the taxpayers, proper information on what this Government has done in all its programs. We make no apologies whatever. Honourable members opposite should be ashamed at the Goebbels-type propaganda unit that they ran.